By Gary Springer, President & CEO, and Mary Ellen Upton, Executive Director, World Partnerships
World Partnerships organized two virtual International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) sessions for a group of journalists from Africa in March 2021. This project, implemented by National Program Agency MCID Washington, was the 10th IVLP project we’ve hosted under the “Media Responsibility in an Age of Disinformation” rubric since the topic first became a part of IVLP programming in 2018. Over the past three years, more than 400 IVLP journalists have come to the Tampa Bay Region to discuss how existing and evolving best practice techniques can be applied to their everyday, on-the-ground reporting in a global information eco-system flooded with disinformation and misinformation.
To dig deeper into these best practices to counter misinformation and disinformation, World Partnerships brought together IVLP participants and Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporters and fact-checkers, Emmy Award-winning television news investigative reporters, on-line political journalists, community radio public affairs talk show hosts, and the world’s largest media measurement company, Nielsen. Discussions centered around new techniques in investigative journalism, including collaborative investigations, forensic journalism, open source information, geo-location, identifying “deep fakes,” and using social media to crowdsource stories.
The first stop on the virtual tour was the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a nonprofit school for journalism that is recognized as the world’s leading instructor, innovator, convener, and resource in journalism leadership, ethical decision-making and fact-checking, editing, writing, reporting, and digital media skills. The school, located in St. Petersburg, FL, is the owner of the Tampa Bay Times newspaper.
Al Tompkins, Senior Faculty at the Poynter Institute, has engaged with hundreds of IVLP journalists over the past 20 years, on subjects ranging from fact-checking to new media strategies to pandemic era journalism.
Al’s message to this group was, “Seek truth and tell it as fully as possible, and detect and expose misinformation and disinformation.” For this Murrow group, Al described the reasons why this phenomenon is so prevalent in the internet era and suggested a number of current tools that journalists can use to counter misinformation and disinformation. All aspects of his discussion points are practical and designed to bring immediate benefit to the work of our IVLP journalists.
For the second stop, Mark Douglas, an Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist recently retired from WFLA-8, talked about fact-checking and investigative journalism techniques based on his 40+ year career in broadcast journalism. Mark has also engaged with hundreds of IVLP journalists over the past decade. Mark used video clips from his Emmy Award-winning two-year investigation into abuse in Florida’s foster care system to demonstrate universal techniques of investigative journalism and emphasized that the fundamental role of journalists is to hold governments accountable and “find the truth and tell it.” Mark also provided the visitors with a comprehensive list of on-line resources for investigative journalism.
Over the past two decades, World Partnerships has brought over 2,400 IVLP journalists from more than 170 countries to engage with our local media and journalism experts. These exchanges have helped to build reporting skills around the world, introduced new techniques to the global profession, and resulted in some extraordinary outcomes.
Discussions about the value and use of Florida’s “Sunshine Laws” to promote accountability and transparency in government was adapted and legislated into law in a Western Hemisphere country. “Africa Check”, the first on-line fact-checking initiative in South Africa, was inspired by a meeting at the Tampa Bay Times with PolitiFact shortly after it was awarded the first Pulitzer Prize for online journalism. Africa Check is now continent-wide, and headed by another World Partnerships IVLP alum. The Poynter Institute created International Fact-Checking Network at the request of numerous IVLP alumni who are now among the Network’s members.
And local impact? “Journeys in Journalism” and World Partnerships have teamed up for outstanding “meet the press” encounters between our IVLP journalists and Pinellas County Schools K-12 students. Our partnership provides students with an opportunity to learn about journalism, geography, current events, and culture face-to-face with all types of journalists. Our IVLP journalists have an opportunity to teach and to talk about their profession, their countries, and their lives. For everyone involved, these encounters are transformational experiences. The classroom experience has inspired a number of IVLP journalists to create similar programs in their public schools.
Our longtime tagline that “World Partnerships brings the World to Tampa Bay, and brings Tampa Bay to the World” captures a fundamental reason why exchanges matter: every interaction between our IVLP visitors and our community is a cross-cultural educational opportunity that wouldn’t happen otherwise. This is not a one-way interchange; our visitors bring their cultures directly to our communities – their histories, arts, cuisines, and their hopes and dreams.
But most important is the simple human interaction that occurs. The world becomes a smaller and more familiar place when you break bread with another culture. All of us of become much less “The Other” after even the briefest human interaction. Stereotypes are dissolved, and bridges are built. Yes, Exchanges Matter.